ESL Assessments


This is the most basic level of reading assessment, starting with the basic building blocks of literacy. Some of these fundamentals topics include letter recognition, capitalization and lower case letters, punctuation, word recognition, and grapheme-phoneme correspondence. These are usually viewed as literacy knowledge and are required to be understood before a student is considered literate. When working with ELL, the students may have been somewhat literate in their native language, or they may have no exposure to English, or this may be the first language they are learning to read. When working with students who have had no previous experience learning to read, a more fundamental approach needs to be taken. Some examples of perceptive assessments include reading aloud, written response, multiple-choice, picture-cued items, and others.

The Telephone Book

This is a practical authentic task for students to obtain. It provides a contextual way to emphasize alphabetical order. Also, it is reinforces concepts of print and understanding the abbreviations, titles based on marriage, ways that names appear, and ties that into a very applicable task. Beyond that, students are familiarized with the telephone book and the various sections. This will really help if they need to use the phone book, as it can be very confusing. The only downside is that phone books are increasingly being outdated because of the internet. It may help to have students complete this task and then introduce them to online phone books. Also, this activity could be adapted to use the dictionary to find words or definitions as that is a similar skill using alphabetical order and familiarity with concepts of print.

Alphabetical Order
The Telephone Book

•    To find someone’s address or phone number, look in the front section of the phone book. 
•    The address is given after the name. 
•    An abbreviation for the city is given after the address. 
•    The zip codes for each city are found in the front of the book; in this phone book, they are on pgs. 28-30.
Directions:  Look up the following in the residence section (home addresses of individual people and families) and write the address and phone number:

1.    Brian and Mary Lou Turnbull
address _____________________________________________
phone number __________________________

2.    Ms. Katherine French
address _____________________________________________
phone number __________________________

3.    Kevin J. Smith
address _____________________________________________
phone number __________________________

•    To find a medical doctor, look for MD (medical doctor) after the name.
•    To find a dentist, look for DDS (doctor of dental medicine) after the name.
•    To find a lawyer, look for atty (attorney) after the name.

Directions:  Look up the following in the business section and write the business address and phone number:

4.    Dr. Thomas Jones (medical doctor)
address _____________________________________________
phone number __________________________

5.    Dr. Richard Reynolds (dentist)
address _____________________________________________
phone number __________________________

6.    Robert Wood (attorney/lawyer)
address _____________________________________________
phone number __________________________

Some businesses have initials as all or part of their name.  These can be tricky to find in the phone book.  All of the businesses that start with initials are in alphabetical order at the beginning of that letter’s section. 

Directions:  Look up the following in the business section and write the business address and phone number:

7.    A C & E Rentals in Okemos
address _____________________________________________
phone number __________________________

8.     G L S Heating and Air Conditioning
address _____________________________________________
phone number __________________________

9.    YMCA of Lansing (Parkwood Branch)
address _____________________________________________
phone number __________________________

The yellow pages list businesses by category.  Using the yellow pages, answer the following questions:

10.    You need someone to represent you in court.  What section will you go to?  _____________________    From pg _____ to pg. ______. 
11.    You need to buy a car.  What section will you go to?  _____________________ From pg _____ to pg. ______. 
12.    You need a day care center for your baby.  What section will you go to?  _____________________       From pg _____ to pg. ______. 
13.    You need to find someone to help you with your broken tooth.  What section will you go to?  _____________________    From pg _____ to pg. ______. 
14.    You have a broken sink.  What section will you go to?  _____________________
From pg _____ to pg. ______. 
15.    You need a family doctor (physician).  What section will you go to?  _____________________    From pg _____ to pg. ______. 
16.    You need to get your computer fixed (repaired).  What section will you go to?  _____________________    From pg _____ to pg. ______. 
17.    You want to have your carpets cleaned.  What section will you go to? ___________________________    From pg _____ to pg. ______. 
18.    You want to hire someone to plant new bushes, trees, and flowers in your yard.  What section will you go to? ________________  From pg _____ to pg. ______. 
19.    Your dog needs a doctor.  What section will you go to? ________________  From pg _____ to pg. ______. 
20.    The lock on your front door is broken.  What section will you go to? ________________  From pg _____ to pg. ______. 

Capitalization and Punctuation part 1

This worksheet gives students a visual to look at for them to edit as you would with any paper or written work. It is an important skill to differentiate between which words needs to be capitalized and those that are not proper nouns. Also, the various types of punctuation and when to use them can be very tricky, and many native speakers also struggle with this skill. Students will always be asked to edit another student's work, and this provide a great practice for specific topics to look for. The teacher would then grade the assignment, hand it back, and go through the most difficult questions explaining why, which allows for feedback and positive washback.

Capitalization: Edit these sentences using the capitalization rules we discussed. There are several mistakes in capitalization; some letters are capitalized that shouldn’t be, and some should be capitalized but aren’t.

1.    Is lake ontario connected to lake michigan?
2.    is mrs. turnbull going to dance in esl class Today?
3.    My Sister really likes Basketball.
4.    martin luther king, jr. was an inspirational man, and i enjoyed learning about him.
5.    I think you all are so lucky to speak several different Languages; i only speak English and a little spanish.
6.    Lansing is the Capital of Michigan.
7.    To get to the meridian mall, head East on grand river avenue for about three miles.
8.    my favorite ice cream flavor is Chocolate, but adam prefers Vanilla.
9.    Her Brother, Eric, lives in Chicago.
10.    I would love to travel all over the World and see many Countries, such as spain, egypt and india.
Punctuation: Edit these sentences for all the types of punctuation we learned. You may need to add or delete commas, semicolons, colons, apostrophes, quotation marks, periods, question marks, or exclamation points.

1.    No Dont touch that hot stove
2.    Arent you going to Saras birthday party
3.    I asked my friend Ben if I could borrow his bike
4.    Using correct punctuation can be difficult Im so glad to learn it in ESL class
5.    Dr Browns’ office smells really clean
6.    When I get home from school I do the following chores take out the trash walk the dog and clean my room
7.    The lunch lady told me not to throw food I didnt listen
8.    Wow You are so good at using punctuation said Mrs Turnbull?
9.    Because the students paintings are so beautiful the art teacher gave them all As
10.    On a cold, winter day I saw big fluffy white dog wagging it’s tail

Masters of Punctuation and Capitalization
Short Story Writing Assignment

Now that you are masters of capitalization and punctuation, write a short story. You may write about anything you want, or for some inspiration, you may choose one of the prompts:

•    Imagine a school where the adults are the students and kids are the teachers…

Imagine you are a new student…on Mars!
•    Imagine an alien stole your homework…
•    Imagine that you couldn’t speak at all…

Page length, you ask? Make it as long as it needs to be to include all of the following in your story:

o    At least 1 of each phrase and clause (There are 6 different types on your laminated sheet, which you may use for help.)
o    Use at least 1 question mark (?)
o    Use at least 1 exclamation point (!)

Use at least 4 lines of dialogue (“ ”)
o    1 ellipsis (…)
o    2 semicolons (;)
o    1 colon (:)
o    At least 3 apostrophes  (‘)
♣    1 to show a contraction
♣    1 to show singular possession
♣    1 to show plural possession
o    All sentences begin with a capital letter.
o    All sentences end with a period, or appropriate punctuation.

Of course you may use more than what is outlined above! Have fun and be creative as you show off your writing skills!

Capitalization and Punctuation part 2


Are you a master of capitalization and punctuation?
Part I: Punctuation
Answer the following questions to test your knowledge about the rules of correct punctuation.
            1. Which of the following sentences is a correct example of a compound sentence?
                  Circle the correct answer.
                    a.   My sister likes to go shopping for shoes, purses and jewelry.
                    b.   Sara is a great student and works really hard.
                    c.   Jim’s brother likes to eat vegetables, but he doesn’t like carrots.
             2. Write a direct question and an indirect question.
                        Direct question:________________________________________________________
                        Indirect question:_______________________________________________________
                3. What is the difference between these two sentences?
ϖ    The girls’ doll is lovely. _____________________________
ϖ    The girl’s doll is lovely. ___________________________________
                4.   In the following contractions, what are the words that have been combined?
                      Couldn’t  __________________
                       She’s       __________________
                        They’d    __________________
            5. Rewrite the following sentences with correct punctuation for dialogue.
What are your plans for the weekend? asked Jen as she walked into class. I’m going to the mall to buy shoes replied Sam and I want to buy a new coat. Oh, I need to shoes too; can I come with you to the mall? Sure! I’ll call you tomorrow Sam said excitedly.

Add the correct punctuation to the following sentences.
You may need to add commas, colons, semicolons, periods, exclamation points, apostrophes.
            6.  When you come to class you should bring the following things pencil planner and books
            7.  My moms soft fluffy cat Teddy hurt its tail
            8.  Dans report card has a lot of Ds her mother isnt happy with those grades
            9.  Run away The building is on fire

Part II: Capitalization
Answer questions 10-14 using your knowledge of correct capitalization.
            10.   Write three rules for capitalization.  (A capital letter is always used when…)
   ___________________________________________________________________
   ___________________________________________________________________
   ___________________________________________________________________
Correct the capitalization in the following sentences.
            11.  they like to go to lake michigan a lot in the Summer.
            12.  conferences at elhs are next tuesday and thursday.
 13.   the michigan state spartans basketball team is ranked number nine in the nation.
 14.   my sister, lindsey, wants to move to chicago after she graduates from college.

Part III: Phrases and Clauses
            15.  How many phrases/clauses are used in the following sentence?   ______
                        To get a job, Eric, a very hard worker, moved to Chicago and works for a small
                        financial company, which is located right downtown.
Extra Credit: Write a complex sentence using at least two different phrases and clauses, and identify the type of phrase and/or clause you use.


One step up from perceptive, this type of assessment focuses more on the formal aspects such as lexical, grammatical, and discourse features. Some generalize this level as vocabulary and grammar, but it is more than that. Some possible tasks for assessment include multiple choice tests (for form-focused criteria), matching tasks, editing tasks, picture-cued tasks, and gap-filling tasks.

Vocabulary Cards

These vocabulary cards allow for a great diverse collection of assessments to teach a variety of topics. It is a selective assessment because it can be focused on so many different details. Students may have a picture or word or sentence on the card, it does not solely have to be vocabulary as this exercise indicates. These cards may be more authentic if the include materials that are common to native speakers such as headlines or phrases. It is the teacher's responsibility to gear the assessment toward their material and make it as authentic as possible. It is practical because this could be done at any time throughout the day, and once prepared could be completed a couple times. Also, the students learn from their peers because of the variety that occurs by having various words or rules.

I prepare index cards with sample sentences using the vocabulary of the course. Then I prepare (on the computer) envelopes with the individual vocabulary word on the front where the address would go.

I insert the card into the envelope.

Students are dealt envelopes like a deck of cards, at random, two or three at a time.

They have to write their own sentences using the vocabulary word on the outside of the envelope. They are only allowed to look inside after their own sentence is written, to check if they did it correctly.

The index card could also have the grammar rules, punctuation rules, spelling rules for irregular verbs, etc. Whatever was required by the lesson.

The nice thing about this method is that students all do not have to write sentences using the same words as the other students. When you have 40 students in a class, it is tedious to listen to all the same sentences. This breaks the vocabulary list up for everyone to learn.

I have done this with many variations, including just giving the students an index card with the word and they must use their dictionary to look up the word, write the part of speech and a sentence.

The variations are really limited by time and imagination.

Sometimes, when the students are all seated, I will fan out the cards like a regular playing deck, and they can choose their own from the pack!

As the work is completed, students return the cards, and envelopes, to me and I give out another set, so by the end of the class, the words have rotated around the room.

Then we can discuss some as a class.

This also would work for math problems.

It is especially good for team work, where students have to solve real life problems and write paragraphs.

Past Mime

Working together, the students act out the sentence they receive. Not only must the students understand what they are given, but they must also be creative to show their understanding. This could be very authentic giving them situations that occur everyday. Also, it provides a practical activity as some students may not be exposed to some of the language, such as a student getting a sentence "I was frosting a cake for the party, when I accidentally knocked it on the floor." If a student has never frosted a cake, then they will learn what the action looks like. It is a great way for students to work together to negotiate meaning for the best way to act out their sentence.

Practises: past continuous with past simple

Students work in pairs. Each pair is given or writes a past continuous + past simple sentence (Sbdy was doing when sbdy did).

Each pair mimes its sentence and the class tries to guess it. It may help, especially with more complex sentences, to write the sentence outline on the board (one underline for each word) and fill in words as the class guesses them.

Some suggested sentences

  • I was climbing a 200-year old oak tree in the middle of the forest when one of the branches broke and I fell 50 feet to the ground.
  • Two lovers were watching a cheap television when it suddenly exploded and showered them with glass.
  • I was driving my mother-in-law's car when a policeman stopped me because he thought that I was speeding.
  • A blind man was withdrawing money from his bank's cash dispenser when three masked gunmen attacked him and stole his wallet.
  • I was walking down the road when a mad dog bit me.


Focusing on vocabulary, this assessment not only requires the students to know the meaning of each word, but also practices association. This assessment is very practical to not only test meaning, but for students to build meaning between the various words. However, this can be a difficult assessment, as the students may find a commonality that you did not. As is the case in the first example, the students may answer any one of the following: Cat - because it does not start with D, Dragon - because it is not a mammal, Dragon - because it is a mythical creature, etc. I have seen this assessment done, when the teacher did not have the students write why they chose that word and they automatically marked it wrong if it was not the association they had. The teacher must specify the criteria for deciding or ask the students  how many they can think of. The emphasis needs to be on the meaning of the word, not the letters or spelling of the word. Otherwise, it may be done the other way as well, with grammar or spelling as the focus.

This simple activity practices vocabulary and to some extent speaking. Make a list of four or five words, all but one of which have something in common. Ask the students to find the "odd-one-out".

Don't be surprised if they come up with some surprising answers. Just ask them to justify their choice. You may well find it logical. Take, for example:

  • dog, cat, donkey, dragon
The answer could be dragon (because it is the only mythical creature) or cat (because all the other words start with "d").

Ideally, the students should phrase their justification in a form such as:

  • I think the odd-one-out is dragon because it is a mythical creature and all the others are real creatures.
Here are some suggested words. You can easily find more. And one good exercise is to ask your students to create some lists (along with valid justifications).

Words Some possible answers
dog, cat, donkey, dragon
    cat - begins c
    dragon - mythological
banana, tomato, peach, apple, pear
    banana - shape
Thailand, Singapore, Tokyo, England, Vietnam
    Tokyo - city, not country
    England - not in Asia
car, aeroplane, truck, bus, train
    aeroplane - flies
    truck - not for passengers
    train - guided by rails
camera, computer, television, telephone, fax-machine
    camera - doesn't need electricity
    television - 4 syllables
love, hatred, fear, greed, anger
    love - positive
    greed - not an emotion
hotel, motel, town-house, condominium, classroom
    condominium - 5 syllables
    classroom - not for residence
water, bottle, shop, pencil, river
    water - uncountable noun
branch, strawberry, anvil, iceberg, boat
    anvil - doesn't float in water


Similar to selective assessments, interactive has more emphasis on meaning-focused objectives. Therefore, they tend to be more top-down rather than bottom-up processing. The texts are a little longer ranging from a paragraph to a page long text, and may even include charts, graphs, maps, and other graphics. Cloze tasks, impromptu reading paired with comprehension questions, short-answer tasks, editing of longer texts, scanning, ordering tasks, informational transfer (reading and interpreting charts, maps, graphs, diagrams, pictures, etc.) are all examples of interactive reading assessments.

Multiple Choice Comprehension Questions

This utilizes a longer text and asks the students to answer questions based on the text. It shows that they are able to read and comprehend the material. This is the type of assessment that would be required for a native speaker as well. The testing format seems to make this more of a formal assessment, and it is not summary based because it is reliant on the passage included in the test. This is a more standard test, then one created by a teacher with their specific context in mind.

Read the following passage and then answer the following questions.

Word Bank

Through this assessment, the teacher is able to choose the words that are included in the word bank and may alter the purpose of the assessment. This could be used with vocabulary or grammar, and to make it more challenging there may be some words used twice or not at all. This is great for interactive because it uses a longer paragraph and the purpose is to complete the meaning of the passage rather than paying attention to the forms. This practical because the teacher is able to quickly assess their understanding of the words, and ability to put them into context. There is no aspect of subjective grading as their answers are either right or wrong. The teacher must pay close attention to the passage they use to ensure that there is only one answer for each blank. These could be more authentic if the passage is from a reading book, song, newspaper, etc. 

Directions: Use the word bank to complete the passage. 
Word Bank:
Ball         Referees        Tournament        Fields        Goalie        
Title         Football        Play            Sport        Teams        Goals
My friends and I like to _________ soccer after school.  Let me tell you a bit about this _________.  You want to score ________ on the other team.  You do this by getting the soccer _______ into the other team’s net.  Only the __________ is allowed to use his hands; all the other players have to use their feet!  People who make sure all the players follow the rules are called _________. Soccer is played year-round; there are indoor and outdoor ________ to play on.  Professional soccer __________ compete in a _____________ called the World Cup every year.  Soccer teams from around the world try to win the _____.  One day, I want to play on the Barcelona soccer team!


This is the highest level to assess ELL's reading. To assess this way places emphasis on more complex and sophisticated texts. Some of these include journal articles, technical reports, longer essays, short stories, books, and others similar in language. Due to the type of texts that are included, it is a focus on meaning rather than form and a top-down processing. Since they are more extensive readings, the formal assessment type is difficult to assess with a time sensitive test. Furthermore, with these texts either comes some production of writing or speaking rather than simply a reading assessment. This is still a great way to challenge learners and assess across language categories. Students may still skim the text, summarize and respond, notetaking and outlining; all of which involve some language production in response to reading.

Hatchet Questions

This is an extremely case specific assessment as the students are asked summary questions based on the book Hatchet. This is an assessment that may be used with native speakers as well. Therefore, it is more authentic in that it checks their reading comprehension and this is a commonly required assignment for students to check for understanding. It is non-specific as to how much the students should write, so that would be one change I would make depending on the expectations for the students' abilities. This could be a great way to provide feedback, both content based as well as grammatical. It is summary based in nature as this is a post-reading assessment. It may be more beneficial to have the students complete chunks of questions that are more detailed over smaller portions of the book, but given the type of the assessment, it is still a valid assessment.

Directions: Answer the following questions about Hatchet using complete sentences.  Feel free to use your book!
1)    What kinds of animals did Brian have encounters with?  Name three and discuss what Brian did.
2)    Name some things Brian found beautiful in the wilderness.
3)    Name three things that are unique to the wilderness and three things that are unique to New York City.
4)    Name four reasons why the hatchet was essential to Brian’s survival in the wilderness.
5)    What did Brian learn in school and on television that helped him survive?
6)    What did Brian use to make fire?  Name three things and discuss how Brian used them.
7)    Fire was important to Brian.  Name three ways the fire helped Brian.
8)    Name three things Brian found in the survival pack that would have helped him in the wilderness.  Why would these objects help him?
9)    Do you think Brian will miss the Canadian wilderness after he is rescued?  Why?
10)    What do you think was the worst thing that happened to Brian?  Why?
11)    How has Brian’s experience in the wilderness change him?  Physically or mentally.
12)    Did you like this novel?  Why or why not?

Skimming for Key Words

Students will need to look in the Language Arts Literature Book to find the given words. This is a search-and-find for higher level students as they are asked to look in their entire book. This could be used a simpler assessment if it were utilizing a smaller section of text. This provides the students with methods for skimming reading for key words or for understanding. It may also incorporate concepts of print if the students are able to utilize the index or glossary. The teacher can adjust the lesson for various levels and content material. It is not extremely practical in that it may not be the best way to teach these skills. Some may define this assessment as "busy work." It does provide a great deal of feedback nor is it overly authentic. I would not use this assessment as it, but may consider the assessment activity if altered for a specific purpose.